the Game Internationally
Via MLB's 'Envoy Program'
of baseball has been flowering overseas for decades, however, the Envoy Program run by Major
League Baseball International division is cultivating it worldwide.
O'Doul is credited with popularizing the game in Japan with teams of All-Stars that included
Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
during World War II, the game bourgeoned in Europe, as soldiers and seamen played exhibitions
before large crowds. The United States Baseball Federation, a precursor to USA Baseball, took
teams of former pros overseas in barnstorming contests. Says Pat Doyle of MLB's Envoy Program,
"Lots of games were played with thousands of people watching."
mid-'80s Major League Baseball formed its International Division and by the 1990s had created
the "Envoy Program" to help spread the game of baseball internationally. Under the Envoy
Program, MLB International provides equipment, apparel, insurance and instruction to clubs and
baseball federations throughout the world. They also select and send American high school and
college coaches, who donate their time instructing young players and prospective coaches in hope
of furthering the sport in the town and region they are assigned. The goal is to "get people to
understand there is a game called baseball," says Doyle, the program's Global Coordinator for
International Coaching for Europe, Middle East & Africa.
are dispatched to 40+ countries among four regions which include: Australia,
China, Japan and Europe, Middle
East & Africa. Doyle estimates that Envoys spend seventy percent of their time coaching
youths and prospective coaches. The remainder is more grass roots oriented, providing people an
opportunity "to learn the game and grow the game."
Each country has a baseball federation, and several like Italy host a baseball
academy. In 2007, an academy was started in China, giving MLB a foothold in the world's largest
potential baseball market. An academy is targeted for Latin America, where many of today's MLB
players get their start.
right: In response to the increasing popularity of baseball in China, Major League Baseball
International opened a baseball development center in Wuxi, China on September 23, 2009.
It is the first full-time MLB training facility in China and provides professional baseball
training for middle school and high school-aged students within an academic school
coaches for the Envoy Program is a multi-faceted process. Typically, candidates come from the high school or college
programs, but they sometimes include ex-major leaguers. Word of mouth is generally how a coach
comes to the attention of the program's directors.
notes that the Envoy Program is seeking coaches with unique assets, including knowledge,
experience and most importantly, flexibility. "We're seeking very dedicated people who
understand they're going to grow the game in a different culture; who are anxious to be involved
and be a diplomat for baseball."
the pay is meager, all expenses are paid. Envoy coaches are given a stipend or honorarium of
approximately $350 per week, and MLB pays for the coach's travel expenses. Food and housing are
paid by the host federation. "There shouldn't be any money out of the Envoy's pocket," says
ways, the biggest challenge for a coach who has spent his years developing a "winning program"
is to modify that goal when he enters the Envoy Program. "They need to go into the host country
and ask what people need in their programs, then work with that," Doyle
Ultimately, the MLB program is looking for coaches who have a passion for teaching
youths in the 13-15 year old or younger age range so that these students in turn will "learn the
game and grow the interest, passion and motivation, for them to take over their program, and
(eventually) become coaches (in their home country)," Doyle says.
United States, young ball players who aspire to be major leaguers have the opportunity to watch
the game on a daily basis. "(Here), it's a no brainer. In Europe, it's not quite the same,"
that the Envoy Program is still seeking its Yao Ming, in reference to the NBA basketball star
who developed skills in his home country of China and then blossomed as an impact player in the
NBA. But MLB may be getting close. Since 2005, 40 players have been signed out of the Italian
Academy to pro contracts.
recently Berlin-born Max
Kepler-Rozycki garnered media coverage after being signed by the Minnesota Twins to a $775,000
bonus, the largest amount ever given to a position prospect outside of the U.S. and Latin
America. The 6-foot-3, 193-pound outfielder moved to Florida with his mother to finish high
school and begin his quest for a career in the major leagues.
40 percent of major league players are foreign
born, and the trend is clearly escalating.
League Baseball is hoping the Envoy Program will develop the International market, and perhaps
pave the way for future expansion of the game. Already, MLB games are being played in Japan,
Mexico and Puerto Rico, with hopes of opening in Great Britain and other countries where
baseball is beginning to flourish, thanks to MLB's Envoy Program.
Sidebar by Editor Rick